The End of the World in 2012? Oops!

Last year I wrote about the claim that the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. Hollywood even released an escapist, disaster movie in 2009 to pick up on the hype.

As you may recall, the Mayans had a fairly accurate calendar which used the base 20 numbering system rather than our base 10. Think of it in this way. We count all our fingers (up to 10) and start the cycle again. They counted all their fingers and toes and started the cycle again. One of the units of their calendar is a B’ak’tun which is equivalent to 394 solar years. We have various cycles too like decade, century, and millennia. Those predicting the end of the world based on the Mayan calendar claimed that December 21, 2012 represents the end of one of these cycles, the end of the Mayan calendar, and thus the end of the world. Speculation on various planetary or solar system disasters were thrown in for good measure with this theory.

What is the latest word on the Mayan calendar and 2012? To compare two calendars you need some fixed points. The Mayan calendar was converted to our Gregorian calendar using a calculation call the GMT constant. The constant was named after the initials of the last names of three early Mayan researchers. Floyd Lounsbury, an American linguist and anthropologist, believed he had confirmed the GMT constant with his work on a Mayan almanac that had charted dates relative to the movements of Venus.

A chapter in a newly published textbook, Calendars and Years II: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient and Medieval World, calls into question the reliability of this GMT constant. The researcher, Gerardo Aldana, says the data supporting the conversion factor may be invalid. The end result is that the relationship between the Mayan calendar and our Gregorian calendar may be off by as much as 50 to 100 years.

Last year there were many reasons to suggest that the Mayan calendar did not predict the end of the world, but only the end of one of their major cycles. This year we can’t even be certain how the two calendars relate to one another and when the end of the Mayan cycle is supposed to be. In other words, it could have occurred 100 years ago or might not happen for another 100 years, whatever the end of that cycle means. Facts may not change the predictors of doomsday, but this new research points to a major flaw. In other words: “Oops!”


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